It was a blessed Sabbath in the Alamodome as Adventist mission was the resounding message in every program. Sabbath School was taught by Gary Krause from Adventist Mission and the directors from the Institute of World Mission. The mission feature for Sabbath School caught me a bit off guard: an emphasis on deaf ministries, and the announcement that the Hope Channel is soon to launch a channel just for those who are hearing impaired. Not only are we striving to reach every nation, kindred, and tongue, but also those within these groups who have the unique challenge of being hearing impaired. (Nothing was mentioned regarding what standard of sign language would be used.)
The divine service began with the reading of Revelation 10. Shortly thereafter, Elder G.T. Ng began breaking down the Adventist origin, identity, and calling in Daniel 12 and Revelation 10, 12, and 14. Ng shared his message in a masterful way that was well illustrated with quizzes, humor, and storytelling. He comes across as the jokester among the executive officers. But the topic was serious.
Adventists were born out of the Millerite movement and the aftermath of the Great Disappointment. They have followed the scriptural admonition in Revelation 10:11 to “prophesy again.” Ng shared the membership statistics across the 13 divisions, stating that we have followed God’s counsel and have taken the message to the world. I was thankful that, shortly thereafter, he again pointed to the massive work that is still to be done.
I appreciated Ng’s message. It resonated with me, as it did with countless others. But there are times when I struggle with these messages, particularly to such a diverse audience. There are some who have, either unwittingly or intentionally, moved away from a distinctive Adventist identity. With the aid of the Holy Spirit, such a call would hopefully encourage individuals to embrace the prophetic identity that the Lord has designed for His end-time people.
But at the same time, those who connect more strongly with Adventist identity are also in danger. There is a subtle temptation to rest in who we are (or who we think we are) and deny the importance of what we do. So when Elder Ng proclaims that we have prophesied again, that we have a large membership throughout the world, that we have an organized work in all countries recognized by the United Nations with the exception of a few, and when we respond with resounding applause, it appears that we have lost our missionary emphasis and begun patting ourselves on the back. Such responses smack more of spiritual pride than of service to the nations.
Reach the World
In the afternoon, for those who did not get pulled into the gravitational field of the exhibit hall, the church provided a robust and varied program that emphasized our shared global mission. At the beginning, Elder Michael Ryan (a general vice president of the world church) and Elder Ted Wilson launched the “Reach the World” strategic plan for the next five years. This strategy includes the threefold approach of “Reach Up to God,” “Reach In with God,” and “Reach Out with God.” This embraces former initiatives such as the Revival and Reformation emphasis, Youth in Mission, and the Mission to the Cities projects to foster personal revival, strong churches, and empowered outreach.
Some of the lighter segments during this program featured the Sabbath Sofa project in England and a Brazilian pastor who gave Bible studies with a waterproof Bible. More intense were the grave realities and incredible risks of an Adventist hospital that stayed open during the worst (and most dangerous) phases of the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, as well as a tribute to missionaries who gave their lives to the cause, from J.N. Andrews to recent deaths of missionaries and their children. The sacrifices that keep Adventist mission moving were portrayed in a powerful way.
Two Divisions, Two Very Different Reports
During the evening program, two quite different division reports were shared. The North American Division (NAD) report came first, highlighting a few of the various ministries that the NAD has undertaken. NAD President Dan Jackson introduced a lengthy video featuring Marquis Johns, who highlighted a number of the media ministries (with the exception of It Is Written Canada), this year’s past Pathfinder Camporee in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, and ministry in Guam and Micronesia.
Two very interesting features were Adventist Refugee and Immigrant Ministries and the initiative to double the 107 female pastors in the NAD by the next GC session. The former is close to my heart due to my time serving as a refugee mentor to an Iraqi family while I was a student. The needs are tremendous, and until recently, Adventists were not numbered among the various faith-based refugee ministries in North America. I’m personally very grateful to the NAD for making advances in this area.
The latter initiative becomes more complex because of the hot topic of women’s ordination. However, the NAD has had (unordained) women pastors for a number of years, which is in harmony with church policy. What impressed me in the video about one of these pastors was her expressed passion for visitation ministry. This was evident from the video, where she was displayed delivering communion. It should be noted that visitation ministry is something that NAD pastors (overwhelmingly male) often don’t engage in, to the dissatisfaction of many congregants. To see a woman sensing a burden for this need and taking up the neglected duties is a strong argument in favor of women working alongside men in ministry.
In stark contrast, the Middle East North Africa Union (MENA) had one short video, followed by the Union President, Homer Trecartin, sharing stories. These stories proved to be quite powerful, and elicited applause more than once from the audience. The strategy of MENA is simple: bring Adventist people to simply live within the Union territory. There are 500 million people living in this area of the world, with roughly 3,000 Adventist members. If each member spoke to 1 unique person every day, it would take 450 years to complete the task of sharing the gospel. And yet the goals of MENA include simply getting one person or family in each of the major cities of the region.
With these challenges in mind, Elder Trecartin went on to carefully share a number of powerful stories of what God is doing to minister to the residents of the Middle East. The presentation was powerful. Not only because of its content, but also because of the fact that MENA is a newly organized field, consisting of territories that were previously divided between two European-based divisions. Every ministry that Trecartin presented was a new initiative. I’m so grateful for what God is doing there, and for the vision of the General Conference to make the mission to the 10/40 window such a high priority.
With that, I’ll be signing off from the daily blog; my friend Dan McGrath will be sharing his thoughts on the daily proceedings of the General Conference Session. If you’re interested in the play-by-play, I do my best to live-tweet the meetings that I am able to attend (@beans4breakfast).
(Top photo by Dan McGrath: The Alamodome on Sabbath)